Circles of Prayer

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Circles of Prayer

Dear Chevra,

As I mentioned, in addition to "im kol ha'amim" there are several innovations in prayer-forms in the Jewish-renewal community that seem to me very important bearers of spiritual and ethical values, and that we should continue to affirm and enrich.

For me, one of the most profound is our davvening in a circle/ semi-circles. Profound because as I look toward God, I see the other faces in the room. For me this is especially important at the Barchu, as we hear and/or call out "Let us bless!" and as a community, a minyan, affirm "Sure enough!" and thus traditionally welcome the Shekhinah — God's Presence — fully into the room, illuminated by community. Especially at that moment, it's important for us to SEE the many faces of God around the room, and some of us have made a spiritual practice of asking the community to look from face to face before the Barchu, saying inwardly "This is God's Face!" at each face we see.

I find this reinforced by davvening still in a circle, though in a looser conf iguration as people find their own place to "take a stand" for the Amidah, rather than all turning East. For me, if God is at the Center of community, then that is true in the Amidah as well and for the shaliach/ shlichat tzibbur to turn eastward, with everyone else following suit, produces what feel to me like regimented rows that symbolize the opposite — that God is Out There, Up There, like a general reviewing His troops — rather than amongst us, in what Buber called the Zwischen — the "Between."

And of course our mixture of masculine and feminine pronouns for God, "Brucha at" as well as "Baruch attah," seems to me both ethically and spiritually important: reminding us that God is both Masculine & Feminine and Beyond gender, and providing metaphors that empower women as well as men, gay and hetero and bi and trans, through identification and through encounter.

And also of course our use of metaphors like "ruach ha'olam," "chai ha'olamim," "eyn ha'chayyim," — Breath/Spirit of the world, Life of all the worlds, Wellspring of life — that are far more immanent than "melech/ king" and are also ungendered (except in grammar).

Shalom & shanah tovah —


Shalom Center Website


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